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North Country sees highest COVID positivity rate in New York

Published: Oct. 6, 2021 at 4:39 PM EDT
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PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (WCAX) - The North Country currently has the highest COVID positivity rate in New York. But experts say when it comes to the positivity rate, you need to look at testing, something rural areas have limited access to.

“North Country, come on North Country, you can do better,” Gov. Kathy Hochul, D-New York, said Tuesday.

The governor called on Northern New York to do better with its coronavirus cases after Tuesday’s COVID update showed the region with a 5.26% positivity rate on its seven-day average. The state average sits just under 3%.

“We’re seeing a continuation of the delta variant not abating and we will continue to stay ahead of this,” Hochul said.

“You know, we’ve been in that space for a while,” said Dr. Wouter Rietsema, an infectious disease specialist at the Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh.

Rietsema has spent the last 20 months monitoring cases in the region on a daily basis. He said surges come and go in regions all around the state.

“The first surge in the spring, we didn’t have a lot of disease up here,” Rietsema noted.

Over time, the delta variant has spread, making its way to the rural pockets of the state.

Rietsema says in more populated areas, they have high previous infection rates, giving some people natural immunity.

“Of our unvaccinated individuals, more of them are really truly susceptible,” Rietsema said.

He said the seven-day average doesn’t paint the full picture of COVID in rural communities.

“Positivity rates are an awkward... You know, they aren’t really a good measure of what’s going on,” Rietsema said.

He said when you break down the math that goes into the equation, the numbers rely on testing in the region.

“Testing is much harder to come by in the North Country and other rural parts of the state than in urban centers,” Rietsema said.

WCAX News has previously reported there are no options for walk-in testing sites around the North Country; many sites require a doctor’s note or come with a cost.

“If testing is hard to get, not as many people are going to get tested,” Rietsema said.

Fewer tests being done and a majority of the people getting tested showing signs and symptoms can lead to the region having a higher rate than others.

Rietsema says there is no way to tell how long COVID will stick around and he reiterated the best way to keep yourself safe is with a vaccination.

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New York’s Clinton County sees nearly 1,000 COVID cases in September

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